April 5, 2014

Chris Stephens: The boys of summer ready for rec baseball


— The emotions are far-reaching and played out all over baseball diamonds each summer. Fear. Anxiety. Fear. Anticipation. Fear. Excitement.

But honestly, I have no idea how my son feels about his first baseball season. These are my emotions.

After four indoor soccer seasons and one outdoor season, my son Ellis, a first-grader at City Park Elementary, decided he wanted to play baseball.

He had never swung a bat. He had never put on a glove. He had never thrown a baseball with any purpose. We haven’t been to a baseball game together since he was a baby.

Are these my failures as a father or his as a son? Probably mine.

So all these emotions I’m now dealing with are well deserved. Ellis? He’s all smiles and doesn’t have a care in the world.

After a few minutes of trying to talk him out of it, I knew his mind was set. Like soccer and later Cub Scouts, once he had his mind made up there would be no changing it.

Either way, here we are. On the eve of his rookie Dalton Parks and Recreation season that will probably end far from Cooperstown.

After four weeks of practice, Ellis and the mighty 6- and 7-year-old DPRD Riverdogs will take on the Marauders at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Al Rollins Park on Field No. 2.

If you play like you practice, I can expect the following from Ellis:

He will run the bases hard while playing the field. You read that right. On defense, from any position, as soon as the ball is hit he doesn’t chase the ball. Instead, he takes off for the next base. He’s bound to score a ton of runs for both teams.

He will have to decide which is more important — throwing the ball or the rocks he has collected. Most of the time, the rocks win out and he ends up throwing the ball with his glove hand so he doesn’t have to put down the rocks.

Should he make contract with the ball, chances are that he will only get close to the bases. As he approaches each base he makes the turn for the next base a little too soon. He’s cutting corners.

And because he’s only put on a batting helmet a few times, chances are that once he gets it on, gets it snapped and fixed, he’s keeping it on for the rest of the game. At least he’ll be easy to find. He’ll be the outfielder with the batting helmet on. According to Ellis, “I feel like a bobblehead.”

There have been some “highlights” at practice.

The first play he made on defense (I guess he was tired of running the bases), he used his foot. What else would expect from a soccer player?

He continues to hit the ball with some regularity. And he’s started chasing the ball, for good or bad.

The scariest practice to date came when he ended up playing first base. He took a couple of direct shots and eventually asked the infielders to roll the ball to him. After a particularly good throw came his way and he ran from it like a live grenade, his coach Brian Palmer moved him to second. Ellis gave me the thumbs up with a big smile.

Some real highlights include his teammates. They hit. They run. They field. Ellis and I have both been impressed and we know can learn a lot from watching others and doing as they do. If anyone on his team deserves a write-up in the paper, it’s these players. In fact, it was because of their skill that Ellis had such a rough time at first base. The batter was hitting every pitch and the infielders were sending a barrage of throws on target to first.

There could be a silver lining in this for both he and I. After a few disastrous years of basketball and baseball for my daughter Emily, she found dancing. And after six Nutcracker performances with the Dance Theater of Dalton, my wife Tammy and I know that she has found something she truly loves.

Maybe Ellis is on his way to finding something he really enjoys.

Maybe. But as soon as I start to feel good about all of this, there is Ellis in the dugout. I see him working hard to wedge his bottle of water in the fence. He finally gets it to fit into the opening.

As soon as he does this, I tell Tammy that the next time he wants a drink, he’s not moving that water bottle.

Sure enough, three minutes later, there is Ellis the hamster drinking from the water bottle with it still wedged in the fence.

Along with all the other emotions I’ll have this week as the season gets under way, I’m also thankful.

I’m thankful to the coaches who give their time to teach and help these young players. My hat is off to all who volunteer and coach. Without dedicated coaches, these leagues couldn’t be successful.

This season won’t be about hits or runs or wins for Ellis and our family. It will be about smiles and fun for Ellis while I keep the fear and anxiety to myself.

I figure most teams have parents like me, scared and excited at the same time. And I figure most teams have a player like Ellis. It should be a season to remember.



Chris Stephens is designer of Dalton Magazine and Catoosa Life Magazine and a former sports writer for The Daily Citizen.